Cambridge Group for Irish Studies

On Tuesday the 29th January Professor Ian McBride will address the Cambridge Group for Irish Studies on ‘Jonathan Swift and the Whole People of Ireland’. The seminar will be held at 8.45pm in the Parlour, Magdalene College, and all are welcome to attend.

In his inflammatory Letter to the Whole People of Ireland (1724) Swift complained that ‘all Government without the Consent of the Governed is the very Definition of Slavery’. Accordingly he repudiated the idea of Ireland’s subordination to Britain, a longstanding English assumption embodied in the Declaratory Act of 1720. At a tempestuous gathering of the Irish privy council on 27 October 1724, Lord Carteret called for the prosecution of the printer of this ‘Wicked and Malicious Pamphlet’ and offered a reward of £300 for anyone who would disclose the identity of the seditious author. What had begun as a dispute between the fictional ‘Drapier’ and the Wolverhampton ironmonger William Wood was escalating into a dangerous confrontation between the Irish people and the British parliament. It was also an increasingly personal struggle between Jonathan Swift, now hardly bothering with his literary disguise, and Robert Walpole. 1724 saw an unprecedented mobilisation of public opinion in Ireland. The forced withdrawal of the patent was a humiliating defeat for London ministers used to subordinating Ireland’s political and economic interests to their own. It also transformed Swift’s political standing. The ageing reactionary was dramatically reincarnated as the ‘Hibernian patriot’, a popular hero whose birthday was celebrated by the Dublin crowd and whose example inspired later generations of Irish nationalists. But what did Swift mean when he claimed that Ireland was in a state of slavery, and who were the ‘whole people’ of Ireland?

About the Speaker:
Ian McBride is Professor of Irish and British History at King’s College London. His most recent book is Eighteenth-Century Ireland: The Isle of Slaves (2009), and he is currently completing Irish Political Writings 1: The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jonathan Swift.

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